Mikel Arteta surprised everybody by starting Gabriel against Fulham and leaving William Saliba out of the squad entirely, and the Frenchman won’t feature against West Ham either.
If you had asked any Arsenal fan before their game against Fulham on Saturday who was more likely to play out of William Saliba or Gabriel, nearly all would have picked Saliba to stand in for the injured Shkodran Mustafi, David Luiz, Sokratis and Calum Chambers.
Arteta surprised everybody by picking Gabriel and he, in turn, surprised everybody by being quite excellent and scoring a goal, despite not playing any competitive football for six months.
None of that, however, explains where Saliba went or why Arsenal only had one defender on the bench in Sead Kolasinac (two if you count Buayo Saka, but that’s a stretch).
Arteta was asked about Saliba after the game.
“I think it’s going to take him [Saliba] some time to adapt to our way of playing but as well to get adapted to the language, the rhythm, the physicality of the country,” Areta said.
“As well we have to bear in mind that he didn’t play much football last season with all the injuries he had.
“So, I think it will be a process that we have to be patient, picking the right games with the right environment and trying to grow because he [Saliba] has a really good potential.
“Everyone was saying that we had too many central defenders and it’s a funny case right now that it’s the position we are short at the moment with all the injuries.
“But I’m hopeful in the next few weeks that situation will resolve and we’ll be in a stronger position.”
Those are no doubt comments we expected to hear more about Gabriel than Saliba but we must remember that, despite expectations, Saliba is still only a teenager.
Given that Arteta said it will “take him some time to adapt to our way of playing but as well to get adapted to the language, the rhythm, the physicality of the country,” I didn’t think we could expect to see him playing against the Hammers at the weekend.
Saliba then started for Arsenal’s u23s on Friday night as they drew 2-2 with Brighton and Hove Albion in Premier League 2, meaning he certainly won’t be playing against West Ham on Saturday.
They u23s went behind when Jenks converted from the spot after 34 minutes. Ben Cottrell drew the sides level in injury time before the break, the assist coming from George Lewis. James Olayinka then gave the Gunners the lead 10 minutes into the second half but they had to settle for a point when Cashman pulled Brighton level with 18 minutes to play.
Saliba played the full 90 minutes and reportedly had a mixed game.